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Intelligent robotics and Quality of Life at work: compete, control or collaborate?

Thomas Jelley

- Corporate

- Sep 29 2017

In a report published this month, the Sodexo Institute for Quality of Life sets out the findings of the round-table ‘Dialogue’ it held in Singapore in May to explore workforce Quality of Life in the advent of intelligent robotics. Here we catch-up with Thomas Jelley to find out more.

Thomas Jelley

Vice President, Sodexo Institute for Quality of Life

How do you summarise the issue at stake?

Thomas Jelley: In the next decade, we expect to see significant workforce developments with continued progress in the fields of data, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, machine learning and intelligent robotics. The purpose of our expert round-table ‘Dialogue’ in Singapore and the ensuing report is to shed light on a question that has attracted relatively little attention to date, namely: from a workers’ Quality of Life perspective, what is the key to the successful integration of intelligent robotics in the workplace?

To open up this question, we looked at a number of key questions, such as:

  • What is the essence of our historical relationship with the tools we use?

  • How is it changing with the advent of intelligent robotics?

  • Are these changes different from those we’ve seen with past technological change?

  • What future scenarios can we envisage?

  • How desirable are they in terms of workforce quality of life?

  • How might we reach the more desirable scenarios?

What sector or industry perspectives informed this work?

T.J.: Our report reflects a broad range of responses to the key questions from experts with relevant knowledge, experience and insight, academia and scientific research, business, healthcare, civil society and corporate responsibility.

What did you learn?

T.J.: We started by acknowledging that, fuelled by rapid technological advances, questions and concerns surrounding the advent of intelligent robotics in the workplace will persist. At the same time, efforts to anticipate and plan for the economic and social impacts on human labour will rightly require much attention from organisations and policy makers. Also, while $14 trillion of human activity or one billion jobs could be automated with current technology, it has not yet happened1 ; in other words organisations can envision and plan for desirable scenarios to make them reality. As they do this, there are many trade-offs to navigate between, for example, a focus on cost-minimisation framed in terms of human-robot competition for jobs and resources, loss of human control or decision-making autonomy and, in the alternative, a focus on value-adding human-robot collaboration framed in terms of worker quality of life.

So, looking at the detail of tasks and activities rather than jobs and roles, applying a quality of life lens, we can develop valuable human-robot collaboration. From reduced exposure to dangerous, risky or uncomfortable environments, to more time for human workers to spend interacting with other people, there are many potential benefits of intelligent robotics in the workplace. Realising the benefits depends on our ability to prepare, engage and value human workers.

Intelligent robotics and Quality of Life at work: compete, control or collaborate?

Intelligent robotics and Quality of Life at work: compete, control or collaborate?

Download: Full Report (PDF), Executive Summary (PDF), Infographic (PDF)


1  J. Manyika, et al., A future that works: automation, employment and productivity, McKinsey Global Institute, January 2017.

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